Willie Nile is one of those veteran American singer-songwriters that only singer-songwriters seem to know about, probably because his flat, raspy voice makes him a hard performer for non-professionals to cozy up to. But on Nile's latest album, Streets Of New York, the fiftysomething rocker surrounds his weak vocals with a terrific mix of power-pop guitars and rootsy rhythms, creating an energized atmosphere for his pithy observations on urban romance. He sounds half his age on songs like "Asking Annie Out," a catchy, mandolin-and-fiddle-accented rock sing-along in which Nile comes across like a dopey teen just trying to catch a break with the girl of his dreams.
Streets Of New York is populated by city-bound dreamers, some in songs as sweet as "The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square" (a Bob Dylan-esque waltz about the everyday excitement of New York), and some in songs as soggy as "Faded Flower Of Broadway" (a punchless power ballad unsuited to Nile's nasal whine). The record's best tracks are toss-offs, like the driving, stinging "Best Friends Money Can Buy," which is so snappy that listeners might almost miss its hard jabs at wealthy gadabouts.
Even Streets' first song, "Welcome To My Head," is deceptively simple, with its serpentine guitar licks and goofy lyrics like "I've got Busby Berkeley / I've got Frankenstein." Nile is trying to give a sense of all he's seen, imagined, and enjoyed over his 30 years on the scene, from "disco parties" to "Jean-Paul Sartre painted green." "Welcome To My Head" is partnered by the title track, a croaking piano ballad in which Nile sings about "the millions / the hipster / the prince / and the clown." It's a paean to the city he loves: a New York where it's always 1978, and rock romantics can find Lou Reed on one side of the river and Bruce Springsteen on the other.